Thursday, January 21, 2010

Your LG Report Guide to Key West, Part II - Food + Drink

Somebody who read yesterday's post said to me, "Why don't you write the phrase 'Haitian Relief Efforts' in your blog to get more Google search hits?"

I'll tell you why: Because The LG Report has more class and dignity than that, that's why!  Just the thought of people who would stoop to such a low level for clicks makes me cringe...  (By the way, I donated to Haiti relief, and I hope you did too...)

OK, back to Key West, Part II, Food + Drink.  There are plenty of choices; you can't swing a passed-out tourist without hitting a bar or restaurant.  We'll start with the eats.  But first:

LG REPORT TRIVIA FACT:  Key West is the only city in the continental U.S. to never have experienced a frost. The lowest recorded temperature was 41 degrees back in the 1800s.  I don't know the exact date, I wasn't there.  

The main drag in Key West is Duval Street.  It runs from the western edge of downtown, near Mallory Square, to the eastern edge of the island, not far from the Southernmost Point Monument.  I'd guess that Duval is about 12 blocks long at most.  It seems longer if you're walking a bit wobbly.  

There are some outlying restaurants and bars, but most places of note are within an easy walk of Duval Street.  There's really no need to rent a car in Key West, unless you plan on exploring other Keys further north or, like Geo's friend, you want to crash into the Conch Train with its payload of camera-toting tourists.  Consequently, I won't give addresses for these places, just ask a local where they are. I'm sure that at least 50% of the time they won't steer you wrong on purpose.

There used to be a bar in San Francisco named Kitty O'Shea's whose motto was "We only cheat drunks and tourists."  That's probably true in most vacation spots.

The photos, again, are the impressive handiwork of my talented friend Stan.  I'm applauding him right now, although you can't hear it, unless you live downstairs from me (but I know she's hard of hearing, thank goodness.)

This is a photo of the outside bar at the restaurant Blue Heaven:

Blue Heaven is famous on the island for its delicious breakfasts ("brunch" for those of you from Connecticut).  The pancakes are mouth-watering - among the best you'll ever have.  However, don't mistake this for being "merely" a breakfast spot.  Blue Heaven also serves a very tasty dinner with fresh seafood selections.  Open air seating is the rule, and roosters will stagger around freely at your feet, it's part of the charm.  But if you're afraid of being too close to Foghorn Leghorn and friends, stay away.  Roosters are one of the unofficial mascots of Key West, along with cats, conch and wealthy northern tourists.  You won't go wrong with a meal at Blue Heaven.  Just don't step on a rooster, it's bad form.

Camille's, built in the same pink architectural style that we saw in yesterday's post, is another great breakfast spot.  Like most places in Key West, the dress code is casual (in other words, no need to shower first, just throw a baseball cap on.)  The house specialty is some type of scrambled egg mix with sausage, potatoes and other good stuff.  I always forget to order it, and then slap myself in the head when I see it placed in front of Stan and Gail [you probably don't know them, but I do.]

Pepe's doesn't look like much on the outside, but it's bursting at the seams with good grub and friendly service.  Yet another great breakfast spot.  Astute readers will notice that I'm starting with the breakfast places -- and there are a lot of good ones.  A wait of 10 - 20 minutes, sometimes longer -- especially at Blue Heaven if you don't get there early -- is not uncommon, but always worth it.  This is the tropics, chill out.

All of these restaurants are one-of-a-kind, sporting their own unique culinary creations and decor. The island does have a Denny's and a Waffle House, but I've never heard of anyone eating in either.  I think that they exist only so that people from Corporate can make a trip to Key West each year to audit the books.  We're on to you, Corporate.

Seven Fishes, pictured at right, has excellent seafood, but a rather boring decor.  It's also located in a residential neighborhood, kind of a weird setting.  I wouldn't recommend Seven Fishes if you're looking for a festive atmosphere, but since Stan sent me a photo of it, I felt obligated to mention it.  He must be on their payroll or something.

In truth, it's a good place if you're a die-hard seafood fan.

Personally, I don't think I'd want a "Do Not Enter" sign in front of my restaurant. Is the city warning people?

Late afternoon is Dante's time. It has a terrific raw bar, including a great deal on Stone Crab claws, and plenty of TVs to watch the game.  You can't tell from this photo, but the seating area is situated in a courtyard next to a pool.  A very drunk woman puked poolside last time we were there.  That entertained us for a while. 

The She-Crab soup is a must-try.  It's very buttery with a hint of sherry.  Umm, umm, I'm hopping on a plane now...

This is Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Restaurant.  It's a chain now, but the first one opened in Key West in 1985.  I'm not sure whether this is the original or not.  There are 18 of these babies in the U.S. and Caribbean. 

I've eaten here once or twice. It's nothing special, unless you're a big Parrot Head, in which case you should try it. Otherwise, I'd advise you to eat your cheeseburger in another part of Paradise. A substantial gift shop is attached.

Louie's Backyard may be the only restaurant on the island that requires men to wear a jacket.  And, sorry fellaz, we're not talking your NASCAR hoodie.  The food is very good, although it also carries big-city prices. 

The outdoor seating overlooks the water and creates a very romantic atmosphere.  It's a great spot to get engaged, or dump a person, whichever feels right.

Louie's backyard is not big.  I can't make any representations about his wife's.

This is Kelly's, owned by actress Kelly McGillis ("Top Gun" and a bunch of crap you didn't see.)  The restaurant has a diverse menu, nice outdoor atmosphere (indoor seating as well), and very good food and service.  LG Report Tip: don't dress like a slob.  And wipe your chin, you have something on it.

The Conch Republic is a family-ish restaurant located on the wooden walkway that runs north of Mallory Square.  It has a very nice chowder and seafood selection at moderate prices.  The average LG Report reader's annual income is $1.76 million, so you don't really care about the prices, I know.  I'm only including them in case someone is reading over your shoulder at work.

I'm not at all familiar with this place, El Siboney.  I've never eaten there, but apparently Stan has, since he took this picture. If you know Stan, ask him what the deal is with El Siboney.  I'll tell you one thing: I don't like eating at restaurants with bars on the windows.  Are they trying to keep someone out or me in?  I'd rather not take the chance...

The Half Shell is a lower-priced seafood shack and bar.  It offers a great raw bar (motto: "Eat It Raw"). The Key Lime Pie is said by many, including amateur food critic Jim Riely, to be the best on the island.  That alone is worth a visit.

Decor: there's a very extensive collection of license plates nailed to the walls in the Half Shell.  If you've ever had one stolen, check here.  And see that row of rental mopeds in front?  Don't knock it over or you'll have to deal with some very angry accountants from Peoria.

This is the nearly-world-famous Hog's Breath Saloon. It's an indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar, with above average pub grub and excellent drinks of all kinds, especially frozen Rumrunners.  I wish I had one now.  There's also a Hog Cam  (that link is live, so watch out!) that you can click on to observe live action in the bar from whatever frigid location you happen to occupy (including your bedroom).  Good live music is featured just about every night.  Warning (or Inducement, depending on your viewpoint): This is a Cougar hangout (female and male varieties.)  Ladies: be on the alert for a skeevy guy who looks like Kenny Rogers, he may leave you emotionally scarred.  Thankfully, he hasn't been spotted for many years, but you never know.  He's Key West's version of Bigfoot.

This is the Green Parrot.  I don't really like this place, but Stan took a good picture.  You won't find many tourists in here, mostly just locals who missed their last shower and wish you'd put your wallet on the bar and drop dead.  There's music, but the band members look like the offspring of ZZ Top and women wrestlers.  And the music is never good, but the patrons are all thinking about their parole hearings, so nobody cares.  Stay away from this place. Key West needs to put up one of those "Do Not Enter" signs.

This is, to me, the saddest bar in town.  It's Captain Tony's, as the sign says.  What you probably can't read in this picture (sorry Stan, nobody is perfect), is that at the bottom of the sign says: "The Original Home of Sloppy Joe's 1933 - 1937."  The real Sloppy Joe's is about 200 steps away, and does 30 times more business, at least.  It strikes me as sad that Captain Tony's tries to lure customers in based on who it used to be.  "Hi, I'm Lyle Lovett, the original husband of Julia Roberts, wanna date me girls?!"  If pathetic were a liquid, this place would be awash.  

Legend has it that the landlord tried to raise Sloppy Joe's rent by $1.00 a week in 1937, so the owner, Josie Russell, and his customers, picked up all of the place's contents, including the bar, and moved them down the street to the present site of Sloppy Joe's.  It's believed that Ernest Hemingway spent most of his nights at this location between 1933 and 1937.  Big deal, right?  No doubt, he'd be over at the real Sloppy Joe's if he were alive today. News Alert for Captain Tony's: It ain't 1937 anymore.

Saving the best for last: Sloppy Joe's.  This is THE nightlife spot in Key West (there are no glamorous dance clubs or anything of that ilk on the island.)  Look at all of those fools standing around, don't they realize that the original site of Sloppy Joe's from 1933 to 1937 is only 200 steps away?  Why are they wasting their time with this much more lively and fun imposter?

Sloppy Joe's has no discernable charm, just good drinks (especially frozen) and a rotating line-up of talented bar bands from around the country.  Some people dance, although that's not really the main attraction.  And some, I've heard, eat here, although I've never been a party to that.  Sloppy's does have a menu however.  It also has a "mercantile" shop where you can buy all manner of Sloppy Joe's souvenirs.  Sloppy's is open 365 days a year, from 9 am until 4 am, except on Sundays, when they open at noon.  The staff must be at morning religious services on Sundays. 

Legend has it that Sloppy Joe's was named after a Sloppy Joe's bar in Havana.  Hemingway himself supposedly encouraged the selection of the name.  The bar hosts an annual Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest, which attracts a big crowd to the island.  This year the 30th Annual will take place from July 22nd - 24th so knock yourself out.  Even if you don't win, I'm sure you'll have fun trying.
That's it for our two-part Key West overview. 

Tomorrow we'll be on to something new, I just don't know what yet...stay tuned!  And thanks for stopping by...

1 comment:

  1. I know this doesn't fall under food and drink, but you neglected to mention Uncle Sam's, one of the country's finest pawn shops, conveniently located on Duval Street. They take virtually anything offered them and transactions are speedy--never more than seven minutes and you're out of there.


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